CPRG 2019 INDIA trip
In January, 2019, we sent four of our dear employees on a 10-day, street-food eating, mind-blasting food tour of India, led by our VP of Operations and India-expert Isaac Clay. This has been a dream of Chai Pani's ever since they opened their doors nine years ago.
The trip was offered to all of our employees (110+ people) and those who were interested in being selected wrote an essay on why they were interested in traveling to India on how they thought it would change their experience working for Chai Pani Restaurant Group. We had a selection committee thoughtfully who choose the four. See their reactions to being chosen here, and read all about them below!
Special thanks to LifeSaver Bottles, PROBAR, Diamond Brand, and Murphy's Naturals for their in-kind donations. Because of you the crew was drinking clean water, eating delicious bars, carrying supplies in style, and fending off the bugs with great spray.
Isaac Clay - Trip Leader & VP of Chai Pani Restaurant Group Restaurant Operation
What is your role within CPRG and how long have you been with the company? I've been with the company since day one. Meherwan approached me and asked if I wanted to be involved and I jumped at the chance. I currently serve as Director of Operations. I support the GMs in the various restaurants and help develop systems that increase sales, support our teams, and grow our concepts.
How many times have you been to India? Seven
When did you start going and what led you there in the first place? I went first with my dad and my sisters. My parents went to India in the 70's for spiritual reasons, and my dad took us to the same places they went. I don't remember much of that first trip, but I went back again when I was 18 and 20 to spend some time there on my own.
You’ve taken groups to India before outside of CPRG. Can you tell us a little bit about past trips that you’ve led? I used to work for a gap year program that took college age students on trips all over the world. I served as a group leader, which was a combination of tour guide, mentor, and teacher. The India trips attracted a certain type of student: spiritually curious, more introspective. The groups I led were made of super sweet young people with huge hearts. We would be in India for three months, and would travel to 7-8 different cities and towns where we would take classes, do volunteer work, and dive into local culture. The trips were transformative for most of the participants and it was a great privilege to be a part of that experience.
What are you most excited to show them? Everything! The food, the culture, the sensory overload.
What are some of the challenges of leading a group there? It's so incredibly different from day-to-day life in the States that it can be overwhelming. The juxtapositions can be disorienting and challenging to reconcile: there is incredible beauty and atrocious pollution, there are ancient cultures that are also totally modern, there's incredible richness of spirit and devastating poverty. It's important to be aware of these things before arriving, and to leave judgement at home. India can teach so much but one has to have an open mind and heart.
How do you think this will change the groups experiences working in the restaurant when they return? I think they'll have a deeper appreciation and respect for the food. I think they will understand more fully just why so many of us (Mikey, Meherwan, Charlotte, James, Daniel....) get so pumped when we talk about India. They'll understand more just how special Chai Pani is and how much our love for India infuses everything we do. I think they'll be more curious and engaged when interacting with Indian customers, and i think they'll be inspired to cook new dishes!
Do you know any of the attendants? If so, why are you excited for them to go on this trip? I'm really pumped for Gavin and Sheila, who both have worked in Chai Pani kitchens for years. Although the food is exotic, after a while one can get bored making the same things day in and day out . I hope they get inspired to dig deeper into what Indian cuisine can offer and that their passion grows and infects the people they work alongside with.
Andy and Geneva both work in the front of house and have never left the states. I think this is going to really impact them. They'll really see just what we are doing at Chai Pani and Botiwalla and will be able to share their excitement and experience with customers.
GENEVA MOORE - Front of the house - Botiwalla
What is your position at Chai Pani or Botiwalla, and how long have you been with the company? I have been a part of the Botiwalla crew since opening day, so a little over 2 years. I work FOH mainly as cashier where I answer questions take orders and greet folks. I also run food make drinks and make sure the restaurant is always running smoothly and customers always leave super satisfied.
What do you hope to learn/what are you looking forward to on your first trip to India? This will be my first trip to India and since we will be traveling to a few different regions of India I am very excited to experience the various street food and holy temples. I am sure food in Northern India is very different from the food on the coast of Mumbai and I am very excited to learn about what sets the food apart first hand. Serving street food in Atlanta is exciting and folks love when you let them know the backstory on where the dishes come from, I look forward to learning about the kabobs, puris, bhel and much more and relaying that to our customers!
What kind of food are you most excited to try? I am excited to try a little bit of everything. However if I had to choose it would be traditional Indian desserts. It’s been a while since I have tried Gulab Jamun and Mawa Jalebi is always so delicious. I am also excited to try all of the dishes that we serve at Botiwalla such as the kabobs and the fresh Puris. Since we will be going to Mumbai I would love to try an Indian fish fry and seafood.
Is there anything that feels intimidating or challenging about the trip? I have a 3-year-old son and this will be my first time leaving him so I have to find a way when possible to call or video chat with him. We will be doing a lot of traveling so I have to come prepared with the necessary items to feel comfy. I always drink tea in the morning and night so I want to make sure I have a water warmer and teas and ginger for my travels. Also I don’t speak Hindi so I want to make sure I know the basics so I will feel more comfortable and be able to communicate with some of the locals.
Why did you apply/ why do you want to go? I feel like going to India will give me a first hand experience of the diverse cuisine and culture that India offers. India is such a holy place and the food is so exciting so I knew this would be a great opportunity to learn about why Chai Pani and Botiwalla are such unique concepts and why everyone loves the food!
How did you feel when you found out that you are going? I found out I was going to India on my Birthday so it was an amazing gift. I am very grateful and excited for the trip and look forward to the experience. I am also such a nature gal so traveling around India via train excites me!
How do you think this will change your working experience at Chai Pani? I love talking to folks and getting to know people and working FOH at Botiwalla that is what is needed since it can get very busy. I lived in Chicago and I am from Oakland CA so I am well exposed to different culture and people, so I can relate to different folks. I’ve just never had the chance to travel abroad and this opportunity will allow me to come back with knowledge to share with coworkers and customers.
What did your family/partner/best friend think when you told them the news? Everyone in my family was so super excited and wanting to know the details of when and where, especially my husband and parents. Opportunities like this don’t happen all the time so they were pleasantly surprised and very supportive.
ANDY LOEBS - Front of the house - Chai Pani Asheville
What is your position at Chai Pani or Botiwalla, and how long have you been with the company? Server at Chai Pani, started working at Chai Pani in May 2016.
What do you hope to learn/ what are you looking forward to on your first trip to India? Hoping to learn more about the culture, food, music, history, etc. of India! Looking forward to eating as much as I can, traveling by train, all the new smells, all of the colors, and hopefully hearing some music!
What kind of food are you most excited to try? I am really looking forward to trying all of the dishes that we serve here, and trying as much as i can of food that i wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else! Some dishes i would love to eat on my trip would be: Vada Pav, Misal Pav, Aloo Tikki Chaat, to name a few!
Is there anything that feels intimidating or challenging about the trip? Yes! The entire experience feels very intimidating to me, as someone who has only left the country once before, but I know I’m in good hands with Isaac as our guide! :-)
Why did you apply/ why do you want to go? I applied because of how rare opportunities like this are! I’ve never heard of a restaurant sending their employees anywhere especially to another country! I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity and feel super lucky to be a part of this trip!!
How did you feel when you found out that you are going? I felt so lucky and special! Couldn’t keep the tears from flowing!
How do you think this will change your working experience at Chai Pani? It will give so much context to my job and the way that i present this food! As a white person serving Indian food I want to be mindful of the culture I am representing, hoping that my perspective from this trip will help me to preserve the authenticity that Chai Pani aims for!
What did your family/partner/best friend think when you told them the news? They were all so supportive and excited! My partner got me balloons to congratulate me!
GAVIN WALLACE- Kitchen Manager - Chai Pani Asheville
What is your position at Chai Pani or Botiwalla, and how long have you been with the company? I have been working for Chai Pani for almost four and a half years. I started as a prep cook and now my current position is Kitchen Manager.
What do you hope to learn/looking forward to? On my first trip to India I would like to learn why Chai Pani is regarded as one of the top Indian restaurants in the region. I have had guests tell me Chai Pani reminds them of home. I want to know what home is and why our food can take them back, even for just a brief moment.
What kind of food are you most excited to try? I would love to try everything while I'm in India. I can't wait see food vendors on the streets and I also want to taste any type of chicken curry. To me, chicken tikka masala is what most Americans reference when they say "Indian curry"; I now know that chicken tikka masala was created in Great Britain. I would also like to see our Butter Chicken Curry get a run for its money!
Is there anything that feels intimidating or challenging about the trip? The only thing I am intimidated by is the population. Asheville is the largest city I have lived in, and I haven't traveled to larger city in a long, long, time.
Why did you apply/why do you want to go? When the amazing company you work for offers up a chance to go abroad and learn, you take it.
How did you feel when you found out you were going? It has taken a long time for this trip to set in for me. After being chosen, I still didn't feel like it was happening until I held my passport in my hands. Now it is all I can think about!
How do you think this will change your working experience at Chai Pani? When arriving back from India, I have a feeling my level of excellence for our food will change. I will want to do more, be more creative, and see if I can inspire employees to think and talk about our food.
What did your family/partner/best friend think when you told them the news? Everyone was blown away! I learned about getting the trip hours before a show so the bandmates and I cheers'd right before going on stage.
SHEILA OLSZAWSKI - Cook - Chai Pani Decatur
What is your position at Chai Pani or Botiwalla, and how long have you been with the company? I am a cook at Chai Pani, I have with been with Chai Pani for 4.5 years. :)
What do you hope to learn/ what are you looking forward to on your first trip to India? I hope to learn more about the food, as I hope it will give me a better understanding of Indian food, an understanding that will improve my cooking abilities, and that will help me contribute even more to the impressively high quality and deliciousness of all the wonderful food that I help to cook at Chai Pani. I look forward to everything on my trip to India.
What kind of food are you most excited to try? ALL OF IT!!!!!!!!! :)
Is there anything that feels intimidating or challenging about the trip? Nope, I'm completely ready for this wonderful journey.
Why did you apply/ why do you want to go? I have always had a deep longing to go to India one day. ALWAYS.
How did you feel when you found out that you are going? Honored, thankful, grateful, and greatly appreciative.
How do you think this will change your working experience at Chai Pani? I will hopefully be a better cook, with an even deeper passion and understanding of India and of Indian food.
What did your family/partner/best friend think when you told them the news? My children thought it was wonderful. They know how much of an affinity I have for Indian culture and of Indian food. :)